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Dealing with Friends and Relatives When You're Gluten-Free

Comments and Questions -- and Attitudes! -- Can Be A Problem

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Updated March 20, 2014

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Comments from friends and family can be challenging when you're gluten-free

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It's really stunning to me how little support some people get from their friends and relatives when they go gluten-free. Although many people's loved ones rally around them — especially if they've been sick in an obvious way for a long time — others adopting the gluten-free diet experience clueless comments and even derisive, snide remarks.

I hope you're one whose loved ones rallied around and support you in every way. But if you're not (or even if you have one negative outlier in the bunch), here's a list of common problems with friends and relatives, and some ways you can approach dealing with them.

• Expect to answer questions that seem to doubt your diagnosis and treatment. Many people have trouble wrapping their heads around a condition that's treated through diet instead of pills, so they may have difficulty understanding that the only available treatment for celiac disease and gluten sensitivity is the gluten-free diet. It's even more difficult when you're self-diagnosed — in that case, many people may take you even less seriously.

The only solution to this is to stand tough. Deal with questions as they come, but don't ever get defensive. Provide a full explanation to people asking for the first (or even second) time. For persistent questioners and doubters, respond with calm answers like "I feel so much better eating like this, I can't imagine going back" ... and then change the subject. Repeat as necessary.

• Ignore those who won't take your gluten-free diet seriously. Many of us have a friend or a relative who continues to ply us with gluten-laden food long after we've made it clear we can't eat it. "Surely a bite of this won't hurt!" goes the refrain. In addition, some of your friends or relatives may know someone who also has celiac or gluten sensitivity, but who cheats on the gluten-free diet all the time ... and so they figure you can do the same.

Explain (again, just once or twice) that yes, you do have to be that careful ... and then start ignoring them. Eventually (and it does take longer with some people!), they'll see you're serious about this, and hopefully start to leave you alone. Some may never leave you alone, yes, but you don't have to respond to them.

• Don't eat their food. Eating "gluten-free food" prepared by non-gluten-free friends and relatives is more than likely to gluten you. You might get away with it once, especially if you're not particularly sensitive, but you probably won't get away with it twice. I can't emphasize this enough: Bring your own food to gatherings ... especially if the cook has expressed any doubts about your diet. I expound upon this some more in Should you eat gluten-free food prepared by friends or relatives?

• Don't make a big deal over your food. Many people seem to have a mistaken notion that gluten-free food tastes bad. Perhaps this is a holdover from the days when gluten-free bread was pretty awful ... but seriously, why would a steak prepared with a gluten-free marinade taste bad? However, there's no reasoning with some people — they'll assume it has to be gross simply because it's gluten-free.

The only way to deal with this is to avoid making a big deal over your food (or even bringing any attention to it). When you bring food to a gathering, don't talk about it unless you're questioned, and even then downplay it and swiftly change the subject ("Yes, it's excellent pasta. Hasn't this weather been amazing?"). If the comments are ugly or mean, they don't even warrant a response — just turn away and start a conversation with someone else.

If you have people over to your house, simply make everything gluten-free ... but don't mention the fact that it's gluten-free. At gatherings I host, I serve rice crackers (which have gone mainstream) for appetizers, some non-grain starch with the main course (usually potatoes of some sort), and then ice cream for dinner. I can't think of any new guest who's even mentioned that it's all gluten-free ... and some people who have been to my gatherings don't even realize I'm gluten-free.

• Don't proselytize on the gluten-free diet. Oh, this is a hard one for me — it's so difficult to resist talking about the health benefits of going gluten-free, especially when you know someone who quite obviously would benefit. Yes, it's likely that some (or many) of your friends and relatives should be on the diet. Yes, you wish they would listen to you, get themselves a diagnosis (or not), and start eating like you do. Believe me, I know. But they're either going to see it for themselves or they're not.

If you have a celiac diagnosis, you should make sure they know that your close relatives should be tested for celiac. Tell them once, or even twice ... but then keep quiet (literally bite your tongue if you have to). They know what you think (even if you're not repeating it), and they know you're there to help if they do decide they want that help. Otherwise, badgering them may make them less likely to go the gluten-free route ... and that's not the result you want.

Dealing with clueless friends and relatives can be stressful, and their skepticism frequently surfaces at a time when you're unsure of the diet and the lifestyle yourself. It can be really difficult to handle, too. But if you reply to questions and comments in a confident, calm tone (easier said than done, I know!), and put a stop to discussions about your condition and diet whenever you want to change the subject, you'll show everyone that you're serious ... and that may cause them to stop bugging you about it.

  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Celiac Disease & Gluten Sensitivity
  4. Coping with Celiac Disease
  5. Gluten-Free Emotions
  6. Dealing with Friends and Relatives When You're Gluten-Free

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